10 books to read aloud with your Boo (or Bestie)
It’s Valentine’s Day again, and naturally, you might have some feelings about it. V-Day can be a complicated holiday that many view as an overly commercialized, unnecessarily commodified, and idealized notion of romantic love. True, of course, but love takes endless forms and can be expressed in many ways that don’t involve buying a dozen roses or a box of chocolates (of course, if gifts are your love language and you can afford them, lean into it!).
One of the ways to connect with the people you love, whether romantically, platonically, or somewhere in between, is to read aloud to each other. Because who doesn’t love being read to, sharing a good story and spending quality time together? Whatever the time of year, whether you may be together huddled on a couch or, given the current circumstances, separated by distance and only able to chat via Zoom, here are 10 great contemporary books to share out loud with the people you love.
The fifth season and the rest of NK Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy
This first really complex and captivating sci-fi/fantasy/apocalyptic book broken earth the trilogy put NK Jemisin on the big name map; she won Hugo Awards for all three books. The fifth season the prologue alone will grab you, and the whole book is a wild ride, following three main characters and a whole cast of supporting characters as they navigate an Earth not too dissimilar to our own where the seasons cause certain kinds of chaos. This book is full of twists, incredible characters, fantastic world and society building, and adventures. If you want to be immersed in a quick and deep story with your reading partner, this is it.
Kate Lebo’s Difficult Fruit Book
For those of you who love edible gardens, plants, cooking, recipes, and memoirs, this is a perfect mix of them all. Each chapter/essay takes a particular fruit as its starting point and weaves together botany, personal and family history, and stories of the body, love, creativity, and self-determination. Plus, there are recipes for delicious dishes everywhere, including with lesser-known fruits. It’s perfect for non-fiction lovers who also want a lot of heart in their essay reading.
Work Won’t Love You Back: How Dedication to Our Work Keeps Us Exploited, Exhausted and Alone by Sarah Jaffe
Looking to sympathize with the horrors of capitalism, work, and the culture of productivity with your fellow reader? This book is good for that. Jaffe, who also wrote 2016 Necessary Trouble: Americans in Revoltis a journalist who primarily covers class and power politics for places such as The New York Times and Atlantic, among others. She writes clearly and concisely about the nature, meaning and implications of work, capitalist values and class dynamics in America. She’s also funny, and this book will likely resonate with anyone who’s ever had a job or has a relationship with work (that is, everyone).
All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis edited by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine K. Wilkinson
This excellent anthology of essays from a wide range of women working to mitigate and fight climate change in myriad ways strikes a wonderful balance between urgency and hope, which is hard to do when talking about the current effects. and predicted increasingly disastrous effects of global warming. . There is humor here too, which coexists perfectly with the seriousness of the work accomplished and the need to go further. It’s great not only for learning, but also for getting a great overview of ideas on how to help fight climate change, showing that everyone has something to contribute and everyone matters. There are also plenty of resources at the end of the book, but it’s also a great reading experience and a great opportunity to discuss with your reading partner your own thoughts and feelings about the climate realities we’ll be living in for the rest of our life. Lives.
Two Trees Form a Forest: Searching for My Family’s Past Among the Mountains and Coasts of Taiwan
If you’re looking to travel the mountains, lakes, and forests with lush descriptions and beautiful, thoughtful prose, Jessica J. Lee is your writer. Her 2017 memoir, Turning, traces a year of bathing in all lakes in and around Berlin. 2019 Two trees make a forest chronicles Lee’s travels in Taiwan as she uncovers her own family history and political and natural histories and takes readers through beautiful, precarious, unique, living and human-affected landscapes. These are great books to share with another nature lover who also enjoys deep thought while gazing at the sky, swimming in the water, or hiking in the mountains.
Shit, Actually: The Definitive and 100% Objective Guide to Modern Cinema
If what you want is a good laugh, Lindy West has you covered with this one. Shit, Effectively will make you forget all that is heavy. It’s 100% pure hilarity with no stakes. West began his career as a sarcastic film critic for Seattle alt-weekly the stranger, and film criticism remains a special skill for her. Share the laughs with your reading partner and take a brain break from the world.
Ross Gay’s Book of Delights
If you want to feel uplifted but in a deeper, more moving way, read this little gem of a book by poet and essayist Ross Gay. Gay is a wonderful observer of small joyful moments, and he chronicles some of them here, perfectly capturing the everyday playfulness, wonder, gratitude, and nuances of experiencing joy and pain all at once. This one is short, funny and poignant; it’s a great starting point if you’re not used to reading aloud.
Sharks in the Time of the Saviors of Kawai Strong Washburn
This is an epic novel that falls more on the side of realism than The Fifth Season but still includes elements of magic. When the youngest son of a family of five living in Hawaii falls overboard and is rescued by sharks, it sparks a sprawling story that spans multiple generations and perspectives. Commentary on mystery, heartbreak, love, longing and family complications lead readers through a beautifully written tale. This one will likely draw tears at times, so be prepared.
Astro Poets: Your Zodiac Guides
We couldn’t make a list like this without including an astrology book! No matter who you’re reading with, it’s fun to compare zodiac signs and birth charts, if only to find out how compatible you are. really are with a friend, lover or family member. Alex Dimitrov and Dorothea Lasky are the poets behind the hugely popular Astro Poets Twitter account and Sub-stack newsletter, and they bring the perfect blend of humor, irreverence and a touch of poetry to everything they do. This book includes an introduction to astrology, hypothetical text exchanges between the signs, reading lists, and general generalizations about the signs of the zodiac. It’s fluffy and funny and it’s great for people who are already into astrology and people who say they’re not but are secretly in it somehow.
When I grow up I want to be a list of other possibilities by Chen Chen
Finally, we would be remiss not to include poetry on this list, and while most poetry is wonderful to read aloud, Chen Chen’s first complete collection, When I grow up I want to be a list of other possibilities, is a great place to start if you’re unsure about all that read-aloud stuff. The poems here are such a good mix of sharp eyes and sharp tongue, funny, sad, joyful and transcendent, even though they are rooted in mundane everyday details. There’s romantic and platonic love, family struggle and honor, food, weather, and a reverence for the absurdity and beauty of the world that shines through in every line.
Sarah Neilson is a freelance writer. They can be found on Twitter @sarahmariewritten.
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